Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Cruising the Web

Geez, when it rains, it pours. These are vertiginous times.

THe New York Times is reporting on a memo that then-FBI Director James Comey wrote to himself after a meeting alone with James Comey saying that President Trump spoke of Mike Flynn and the investigation into Flynn's affairs.
President Trump asked the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, to shut down the federal investigation into Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, in an Oval Office meeting in February, according to a memo Mr. Comey wrote shortly after the meeting.

“I hope you can let this go,” the president told Mr. Comey, according to the memo.

The existence of Mr. Trump’s request is the clearest evidence that the president has tried to directly influence the Justice Department and F.B.I. investigation into links between Mr. Trump’s associates and Russia.

Mr. Comey wrote the memo detailing his conversation with the president immediately after the meeting, which took place the day after Mr. Flynn resigned, according to two people who read the memo. The memo was part of a paper trail Mr. Comey created documenting what he perceived as the president’s improper efforts to influence a continuing investigation. An F.B.I. agent’s contemporaneous notes are widely held up in court as credible evidence of conversations.

Mr. Comey shared the existence of the memo with senior F.B.I. officials and close associates. The New York Times has not viewed a copy of the memo, which is unclassified, but one of Mr. Comey’s associates read parts of the memo to a Times reporter.

“I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” Mr. Trump told Mr. Comey, according to the memo. “He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”
The White House is denying this story. It might actually be helpful for Trump to have tapes of this conversation. But maybe the tapes wouldn't help him. Or the Trump people can argue that "I hope you can let this go" is not exactly an executive order. If this is such an impeachable offense, why did Comey just let it go with only a memo to himself?

Given that this is perhaps the most damaging story so far of all the leaked stories about Trump's presidency since it involves possible obstruction of justice, Congress needs to subpoena the Comey memos and bring him in to testify under oath. The New York Times reports that Comey shared his memo with senior FBI officials.
After writing up a memo that outlined the meeting, Mr. Comey shared it with senior F.B.I. officials. Mr. Comey and his aides perceived Mr. Trump’s comments as an effort to influence the investigation, but they decided that they would try to keep the conversation secret — even from the F.B.I. agents working on the Russia investigation — so the details of the conversation would not affect the investigation.

Mr. Comey was known among his closest advisers to document conversations that he believed would later be called into question, according to two former confidants, who said Mr. Comey was uncomfortable at times with his relationship with Mr. Trump.
Why not inform Congress or at least the leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee about it. If they thought he was really trying to influence the investigation, why not report it? Or if Comey really thought he was being pressured about a current investigation, why not resign if he wasn't going to make this public?

Though I bet that we're going to get leak after leak from these memos that Comey wrote after meetings with Trump.

And then there is this detail.
Alone in the Oval Office, Mr. Trump began the discussion by condemning leaks to the news media, saying that Mr. Comey should consider putting reporters in prison for publishing classified information, according to one of Mr. Comey’s associates.
Oh, geez. Does Trump know anything about the First Amendment rights of the press?

Allahpundit comments,
t is nothing short of amazing that Trump would pull the trapdoor on this guy knowing that Comey had this sort of dirt on him. Either (a) this story is untrue, (b) Trump didn’t realize that leaning on him about Flynn was obstruction of justice, or (c) he did realize it but had a political death wish, or thought maybe the director of the FBI would play ball with him. Whatever the answer, if Democrats controlled the House right now there’s no doubt that subpoenas would be drafted this evening and articles of impeachment prepared, pending Comey’s confirmation that this happened. As it is, the GOP’s going to have no choice but to subpoena him themselves. If Comey and the other witnesses say the Times story is true, what then?
I can well believe that Trump had no idea that it was improper to talk to Comey about possibly ending the Flynn administration.

If you thought we were hearing a lot of calls for impeachment before, just wait. And you can bet that Democrats in the midterm elections will be demanding that Republican incumbents where they stand on impeachment. Of course, I bet a whole lot of Republicans on the Hill would secretly prefer a President Pence, but they have to worry about how their base would react. Congressional Republicans seemed to have been hiding from the media last night.

How soon before Trump starts saying that he has to "go back to work for the American people."

Of course, it's not clear that that one sentence to Comey is truly obstruction of justice. Ann Althouse writes,
I'd like to know more about the basis for saying "An F.B.I. agent’s contemporaneous notes are widely held up in court as credible evidence of conversations." I'm guessing that's a reference to the admissibility of the evidence as an exception to the hearsay rule (803(6)). The weight to be given the evidence depends on all of the circumstances. By the way, it's double hearsay, since we're asked not only to believe what Comey wrote but the unnamed individuals who told the NYT about the memo. The NYT has not seen a copy of the memo.

But let's assume the memo exists and says what you read quoted in the post title. How bad is it to say Flynn is a "good guy" and to express "hope" about the outcome? The headline has a pretty aggressive paraphrase of the quote. It reads: "Comey Memo Says Trump Asked Him to End Flynn Investigation."

The asking is at most only implicit in what is a declarative statement: "I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go." That's just Trump revealing what he hopes for. There's no question at all, let alone any pressure or threat. And "see your way clear" is a delicate phrase. That's not saying do it my way. Go your way. And if your path is clear and it gets you to the outcome I hope for, then I will get what I want, but I'm assuming you will go where you see it clear.

Gregg Jarrett points out this fact about the law.
Under the law, Comey is required to immediately inform the Department of Justice of any attempt to obstruct justice by any person, even the President of the United States. Failure to do so would result in criminal charges against Comey. (18 USC 4 and 28 USC 1361) He would also, upon sufficient proof, lose his license to practice law.

So, if Comey believed Trump attempted to obstruct justice, did he comply with the law by reporting it to the DOJ? If not, it calls into question whether the events occurred as the Times reported it.

Obstruction requires what’s called “specific intent” to interfere with a criminal case. If Comey concluded, however, that Trump’s language was vague, ambiguous or elliptical, then he has no duty under the law to report it because it does not rise to the level of specific intent. Thus, no crime.

There is no evidence Comey ever alerted officials at the Justice Department, as he is duty-bound to do. Surely if he had, that incriminating information would have made its way to the public either by an indictment or, more likely, an investigation that could hardly be kept confidential in the intervening months.

Comey’s memo is being treated as a “smoking gun” only because the media and Democrats, likely prompted by Comey himself, are now peddling it that way.

Comey will soon testify before Congress about this and other matters. His memo will likely be produced pursuant to a subpoena. The words and the context will matter.

But by writing a memo, Comey has put himself in a box. If he now accuses the President of obstruction, he places himself in legal jeopardy for failing to promptly and properly report it. If he says it was merely an uncomfortable conversation, he clears the president of wrongdoing and sullies his own image as a guy who attempted to smear the man who fired him.

Either way, James Comey comes out a loser. No matter. The media will hail him a hero.
I'm not sure that these legalisms matter in a political environment. The media have already branded this obstruction of justice so that's how it will be portrayed and what Republicans will have to respond to. And, as David French outlines, putting the stories together does present a suspicious-looking timeline.
Here is the alleged chain of events: First, Trump asked Comey to drop an investigation of a close former associate and a former senior official in his administration. Second, Comey refused. Third, weeks later Trump fired Comey. Fourth, Trump then misled the American people regarding the reason for the dismissal. Each prong is important, but it’s worth noting that the fourth prong — Trump’s deception regarding the reason for Comey’s termination — is particularly problematic in context. Deception is classic evidence of malign intent.

If true, this is a serious abuse of power, and a Republican Congress would certainly impeach a Democrat if the roles were reversed.
So the Senate and House will subpoena the memo and Comey will testify and we'll see how the story all holds up.
There is no good outcome here. Either there is now compelling evidence that the president committed a serious abuse of power, or the nation’s leading press outlets are dupes for a vindictive, misleading story. Either outcome violates the public trust in vital American institutions. Either outcome results in a degree of political chaos. If the memo is real and as damaging as the Times claims, the chaos is likely greater, but don’t underestimate the cultural and political damage if our nation’s most prestigious press outlets run a story of this magnitude based on a malicious fiction. It’s time for facts and documents, not anonymity and allegations. It’s time for the truth.

Tools and Home Improvement

Today’s Deals

Fashion Sales and Deals

The WSJ explains how the heart of all these stories is the President's credibility.
This eruption shows why a President’s credibility is so important. If people don’t believe Mr. Trump’s words or trust his judgment, they won’t give him the benefit of the doubt or be responsive if he asks for support. Last week the White House spent two days attributing Mr. Comey’s firing to a Justice Department recommendation, only for Mr. Trump to insist in a TV interview that the pink slip came “regardless of recommendation.”

News broke late Tuesday of Mr. Comey’s contemporaneous notes that Mr. Trump asked him in February to “let this go,” referring to the FBI probe of axed National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. The White House denied that account of the conversation, but that would be more credible if its previous statements were more reliable.
There is little that can change unless Trump changes and he has not shown much ability to rise above his own weaknesses.
Mr. Trump is considering a White House shakeup, including cleaning out many of his top aides, but the White House always reflects the President’s governing style. If Mr. Trump can’t discipline himself, then no Jim Baker ex machina will make much difference.

Mr. Trump needs to appreciate how close he is to losing the Republicans he needs to pass the agenda that will determine if he is successful. Weeks of pointless melodrama and undisciplined comments have depleted public and Capitol Hill attention from health care and tax reform, and exhaustion is setting in. America holds elections every two years, and Mr. Trump’s policy allies in Congress will drift away if he looks like a liability.

Millions of Americans recognized Mr. Trump’s flaws but decided he was a risk worth taking. They assumed, or at least hoped, that he’d rise to the occasion and the demands of the job. If he cannot, he’ll betray their hopes as his Presidency sinks before his eyes.
And the GOP electoral hopes will sink along with him. No wonder the Democrats are strongly peddling the worst interpretations of all these stories.

Deals in Jewelry - under $80

Deals and Coupons in Beauty

Luggage and Travel Deals

Hmmmm. Sean Davis reminds us of this Obama executive order.
Just a month before the 2016 election, President Barack Obama signed a policy directive ordering the U.S. intelligence community to share sensitive U.S. intelligence with Cuba’s communist government, despite the fact that one of the top U.S. intelligence official had branded Cuba as one of America’s biggest espionage threats. The presidential policy directive, which was issued as part of the Obama administration’s efforts to normalize U.S. relations with the Castro regime, required the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to “exchange information on mutual threats with Cuban counterparts.”

“The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) will support broader United States Government efforts to normalize relations with Cuba, with Intelligence Community elements working to find opportunities for engagement on areas of common interest through which we could exchange information on mutual threats with Cuban counterparts,” the Obama directive stated.

The Obama administration put some flesh on the bones of the October 2016 directive by signing a January 2017 law enforcement agreement with Cuba officially committing the U.S. to sharing sensitive intelligence with the island nation’s communist regime.

“The memorandum signed Monday commits the U.S. and Cuba to sharing information, carrying out joint investigations and possibly stationing law-enforcement officials in each other’s countries,” the Associated Press (AP) reported just days before Obama left office. The AP report characterized the agreement as a “pledge to share intelligence with Cuban state security.”

USA Today noted that Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser, was physically present at the signing ceremony for the U.S.-Cuba intelligence-sharing agreement on January 16, 2017.

While the Obama administration’s plan to share U.S. intelligence with Cuban spies was immediately opposed by a handful of Republican members of Congress, the intel sharing agreement received scant attention from most mainstream U.S. media sources.....

Several lawmakers noted at the time that the intelligence-sharing deal with Cuba could result in the communist regime sending U.S. intelligence to Iran.

James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence, testified to Congress just months before Obama inked his deal with Cuba that the Castro regime represented one of the top global espionage threats against the U.S.

“Targeting and collection of US political, military, economic, and technical information by foreign intelligence services continues unabated,” Clapper said in prepared remarks before the Senate Armed Services Committee in February of 2016. “Russia and China pose the greatest threat, followed by Iran and Cuba on a lesser scale.”
And then there was this Obama administration action to make classified information public in order to punish Israel.
In a development that has largely been missed by mainstream media, the Pentagon early last month quietly declassified a Department of Defense top-secret document detailing Israel's nuclear program, a highly covert topic that Israel has never formally announced to avoid a regional nuclear arms race, and which the US until now has respected by remaining silent.

But by publishing the declassified document from 1987, the US reportedly breached the silent agreement to keep quiet on Israel's nuclear powers for the first time ever, detailing the nuclear program in great depth.

The timing of the revelation is highly suspect, given that it came as tensions spiraled out of control between Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama ahead of Netanyahu's March 3 address in Congress, in which he warned against the dangers of Iran's nuclear program and how the deal being formed on that program leaves the Islamic regime with nuclear breakout capabilities.

Another highly suspicious aspect of the document is that while the Pentagon saw fit to declassify sections on Israel's sensitive nuclear program, it kept sections on Italy, France, West Germany and other NATO countries classified, with those sections blocked out in the document.
But wait, there's more from the Obama administration making classified information public for its own purposes.
Issrael is fuming with the White House for confirming that it was the Israeli Air Force that struck a military base near the Syrian port city of Latakia on Wednesday, hitting weaponry that was set to be transferred to Hezbollah.

Israel has not acknowledged carrying out the strike, one of half a dozen such attacks widely ascribed to Israel in recent months, but an Obama administration official told CNN on Thursday that Israeli warplanes had indeed attacked the Syrian base, and that the target was “missiles and related equipment” set for delivery to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Israel’s Channel 10 TV on Friday night quoted Israeli officials branding the American leak as “scandalous.” For Israel’s ally to be acting in this way was “unthinkable,” the officials were quoted as saying.

A second TV report, on Israel’s Channel 2, said the leak “came directly from the White House,” and noted that “this is not the first time” that the administration has compromised Israel by leaking information on such Israeli Air Force raids on Syrian targets.

It said some previous leaks were believed to have come from the Pentagon, and that consideration had been given at one point to establishing a panel to investigate the sources.

Channel 2’s military analyst, Roni Daniel, said the Obama administration’s behavior in leaking the information was unfathomable.

Daniel noted that by keeping silent on whether it carried out such attacks, Israel was maintaining plausible deniability, so that Syria’s President Bashar Assad did not feel pressured to respond to the attacks.

But the US leaks “are pushing Assad closer to the point where he can’t swallow these attacks, and will respond.” This in turn would inevitably draw further Israeli action, Daniel posited, and added bitterly: “Then perhaps the US will clap its hands because it will have started a very major flare-up.” (h/t Sean Davis

So is the difference that Obama did shared information with Cuba deliberately and on a much broader basis and, if you follow the Washington Post story, Trump did it inadvertently?

Best in Video Games

Virtual Reality

Video Game Accessories

James Freeman comments on National Security Adviser, Gen. H.R. McMaster's press briefing about what Trump may have said in the meeting with the Russians.
At his Tuesday appearance in the White House briefing room, Gen. McMaster called Mr. Trump’s discussion “wholly appropriate” and consistent with the normal sharing of information on terror threats that occurs in high-level meetings with representatives of foreign nations. He said he was not concerned by Mr. Trump’s disclosures and had not contacted any foreign governments about them.

The anonymous sources quoted by the Post, on the other hand, appear to have very deep concerns, and the Post says that some of them even know what was said at the meeting. But many of the story’s harshest critiques of the President come from people who were not only not at the meeting, but are no longer in government.
These former officials are really concerned about Trump sharing such details with the Russians.
Now why are such subjects sensitive enough to require anonymity but not sensitive enough to avoid discussing with a Washington Post reporter? We normally think of current government employees needing to remain anonymous while leaking data to the press in order to keep their jobs, but it’s not immediately clear why all the former officials also deserve anonymity in this case.

It’s possible that the sources in this story understand that people not named Clinton may be punished if they are caught mishandling sensitive information they obtained while they were in government. But one would think that a former official could publicly opine that the President is recklessly sharing information without disclosing any particular details of intelligence or the way it is collected. This raises the possibility that the sensitivity problem relates to a source’s current and future employment rather than previous government service.

Not every organization enjoys having its employees publicly accuse the President of endangering national security. And even people without an institutional affiliation understand they run the risk of offending clients when they publicly stand behind a controversial idea. But of course the grant of immunity by a reporter denies readers the opportunity to evaluate sources for themselves and consider their possible agendas.

Readers can’t tell whether the former officials quoted by the Post are retired or work for defense contractors or think tanks or political operations—or perhaps at firms that have nothing to do with government.

But readers are able to evaluate H.R. McMaster. He has spent a highly distinguished career defending the United States. And he was at the meeting. And he’s on the record.

With this whole story, it does indeed seem that the media revealed more information than Trump might have done.
Monday’s stories on what Trump told his Russian guests noted that he’d given details that might help them figure out how Washington had gotten the intel.

But The New York Times reported Tuesday that Israel was the source.

And then ABC disclosed even more sensitive specifics: An Israeli spy inside ISIS had uncovered the active plot to bring down a US-bound jet with a laptop bomb able to evade airport security.

This info is said to have been provided on condition that Washington not reveal who came up with the goods. And we’d like to hope that the leaks to the Times and ABC are disinformation to obscure the true source.

National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster insists Trump didn’t even know where it came from.

So why did the Times and ABC feel compelled to publicly disclose more details? Maybe the Russians hadn’t figured it out — yet now the whole world knows.

ABC went live with info that, by its own admission, places the life of the Israeli spy “at risk.” So ISIS knows now — thanks more to the US media than to the president.
And those anonymous leakers are the ones that put this information out there. How is saying that it was Israel helpful?

With all this in mind, it's helpful that Mollie Hemingway provides a list of how to read media reports chock full of anonymous leaks on the Trump administration.
-In the immediate aftermath, news outlets will get it wrong.

-Don’t trust anonymous sources. If democracy dies in darkness, anonymity is not exactly transparent or accountable. Unless someone is willing to to put his or her name with a leak, be on guard. Pay attention to how well the reporters characterize the motivations of the anonymous leaker. All leakers have motivation.

Does the paper seem to have a grasp on how the motivation affects the veracity of the leak?

-If someone is leaking national security information in, order to support the claim of a national security violation, be on guard.

-If someone is claiming a serious national security crisis but not willing to go public with the claim and resign in protest of same, be on guard.

-Compare sources willing to put their name and reputation on the line.

-Big anti-Trump news brings out the fakers.

-Pay attention to the language that the media uses. Is a story about something unimportant being written in such a way as to make it seem more important?

-Beware confirmation bias. Everyone has the tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one’s existing beliefs or theories. Be on guard that you don’t accept critical or exonerating evidence to match your political preferences.

-Pay attention to how quickly and fully editors and reporters correct stories based on false information from anonymous sources. If they don’t correct at all, it’s an indication of a lack of respect.
I have a feeling that we will have need of this list for at least the next three a three-quarters years. Unfortunately, we're at the point nowadays when so many people feel that they can't trust either the media or the Trump administration.